Stroke in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Stroke. CVA. TIA. These words mean a death sentence for 150,000 people every year in the UK and leave another 300,000 chronically disabled. Stroke is the third biggest killer of humans worldwide, and dog-owners need to know about it because dogs suffer from strokes too.

In fact, stroke in dogs is much more common than we thought it was a few years ago.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs

This is what this article is about –

  • What you need to know about stroke.
  • How it affects dogs.
  • Why the weather is important.
  • How you can know if your own dogs are at risk and…
  • …if so, what you can do to try and avoid it ever happening to them.

So, this is an important article for all dog lovers, please share it widely with everyone you know.

To give you the big picture, we start with a brief summary of what stroke is in humans, then move on and concentrate on stroke in dogs, including the similarities and differences to stroke in humans.

The human perspective

First, the good news
The average life expectancy in humans has dramatically increased over recent decades. From 1950 to 2000, the number of people aged over 60 has increased by 300%, and by 2050 it is predicted to more than triple again. Of course, there are many factors responsible for this including, increased wealth, better education, better nutrition and better public health awareness and advances in medicine.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
Image by stevepb [CC0 1.0]
Now for the bad news
Despite our increased longevity, the annual worldwide death rate as a result of largely preventable, chronic diseases remains stubbornly high at 36 million. Furthermore, these diseases lead to long-term disability, which is an expensive and unnecessary extra burden for the health services. Lifestyle-related diseases include stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. These diseases are associated with behaviours such as smoking (more about smoking HERE), unhealthy diet choices, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.

And there’s more bad news
As a result of the aging population, by 2020, deaths from stroke will have increased by an estimated 200%. In the UK, after heart disease and cancer, stroke is the third largest killer responsible for around 150,000 deaths a year. Having a stroke is not always fatal, but it has led to long-term moderate to severe disabilities in about 300,000 in the UK. The total annual cost of stroke to the UK economy is around £11 billion.

Not surprisingly, therefore, in wealthier countries, prevention of these chronic diseases in as many people as possible has been a long-term goal for governments for decades. The most common risk factors are targeted are high blood pressure, salt intake, more exercise, healthier diet, obesity and tobacco smoking.

About 1 billion people worldwide have high blood pressure and it is solely responsible for about 65% of all strokes. Of those strokes that are fatal, for every 10 deaths, 4 could have been prevented if blood pressure had been managed properly.

For example, it is well known that high salt consumption contributes to high blood pressure, yet manufacturers of processed foods continue to add extra salt (NaCl) to their products to increase palatability and shelf life. This, along with the salt many of us habitually shovel over every meal ourselves, means that most of us consume well over our actual daily need of less than 1g per day.

Alarmingly, the worldwide average salt intake per person per day is between 5g and 18g!

The canine perspective

With over 400 different breeds, varying in size from the tiny-small to the super-large, dogs are unique and really unusual in the animal kingdom. Furthermore, they are one of the few non-human animals to routinely enjoy living out the full length of their lifespan.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
Image by Original_Frank [CC0 1.0]
In the United Kingdom, there are about 9.3 million dogs, and the 3 longest living pure-breeds are the Miniature poodle (14.2 years), the Bearded collie (13.7 years) and the Border collie (13.5 years). The 3 shortest living pure-breed dogs in the UK are the Dogue de Bordeaux (5.5 years), the Great Dane (6.0 years) and the Mastiff (7.1 years). Note that the dogs ages are quoted here as the median age (not the average, or mean age) to avoid atypically short- or long-lived dogs skewing the figures.

Overall, after allowing for body weight, gender and neuter status, cross-breed dogs outlive their pure-breed counterparts by 1.2 years. This age advantage of cross-breeds is most likely due to genetics, i.e. hybrid vigour.

The most common causes of death is UK dogs less than 3 years old are behavioural problems, gastro-intestinal disease and trauma. In contrast, the most common causes of death in dogs older than 3 years are neoplasia (cancer), musculoskeletal disease and neurological disease (which would include stroke). Although ‘old age’ has been quoted as the second most common cause of death after neoplasia, the term ‘old age’ is meaningless unless specifically confirmed by post-mortem examination that can rule out all potentially fatal underlying diseases.

The mechanics of stroke

Stroke is the general term used when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted and the most common causes are thrombosis, embolism and haemorrhage.

Thrombosis: A thrombosis is caused when the blood starts to clot at a point of ‘roughness’, or damage on the inner wall of a blood vessel. This acts as a seed for further clotting and the clot continues to grow until it eventually obstructs the blood vessel. Alternatively, a clot can break off and get carried away in the circulation, where it becomes an embolism.

Embolism: An embolism is caused when a piece of solid debris floating freely around in the circulation gets lodged as it passed through a narrow blood vessel and blocks it. The most common embolisms are made of blood (thrombus), fat (fat embolism), or air (air embolism).

Haemorrhage: A haemorrhage is the escape of blood from the circulation into the surrounding tissue, where the swelling it causes can obstruct the blood flow to the surrounding tissues.

The anatomy of the brain and its blood supply is very similar in humans and dogs. In addition, like humans, pet dogs live out their natural lifespan and, as a result, are more likely to diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Many pet dogs are also exposed to environmental toxins such as pollution and cigarette smoke. It’s hardly surprising then that dogs, like humans, suffer from strokes.

So, stroke is a disease of the blood supply to the brain, the cerebrovascular system, accounting for its medical name, a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). However, this term is reserved for stokes where the clinical signs last more than 24 hours. If the clinical signs of the stroke disappear in less than 24 hours, this is a transient ischaemic attack (TIA).

Ischaemia is a reduction in the blood supply leading to the starvation of oxygen and glucose to the tissues being supplied. Brain cells are very greedy and they quickly deteriorate and die if starved of blood for any length of time. When an area of tissue dies as a result of ischaemia, it is called an infarction. So, a TIA and a CVA are essentially the same thing, but differ in duration. The location of the stroke in the brain is also important – a TIA in one area may manifest itself as a CVA, had it occurred in a more functionally critical area of the brain (remember, the presence or absence of clinical signs determine the name).

A stroke is also classified according to what caused it. An ischaemic stroke is caused by a thrombosis, or an embolism, while a haemorrhagic stroke is causes by a haemorrhage.

In humans, 77% of all strokes are ischaemic, while 23% are haemorrhagic. Atherosclerosis (a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels) is a common cause of ischaemic stroke by embolism. Having high blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for stroke in humans and one of the reasons for this is that it promotes the development of atherosclerosis.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
If a blood clot breaks away from plaque build-up in a carotid (neck) artery, it can travel to and lodge in an artery in the brain. The clot can block blood flow to part of the brain, causing brain tissue death and an ischaemic stroke.
Image by National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NIH) [Public domain]

Stroke in dogs

By comparison, haemorrhagic strokes are rare in dogs. However, in dogs with chronic diseases such as hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism and hereditary hypercholesterolaemia, ischaemic stroke by embolism as a result of atherosclerosis is more common. Unlike humans, high blood pressure on its own is not common, but it can occur in dogs with chronic diseases such as renal disease and hyperadrenocorticism, thereby increasing the risk of stroke.

Overall, while stroke is a common neurological disease in humans, and it is the third biggest killer, this is not the case in dogs where it is relatively quite rare, accounting for around 1.5 to 2% of all neurological cases seen.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
Image by Wallula [CC0 1.0]

The brain’s blood supply is the critical factor

As mentioned above, the brain is a very greedy organ and it needs a constant and reliable blood supply to all parts. Every cell must have oxygen, glucose and other nutrients, and just as important, the efficient removal of waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. To achieve this, the brain has 5 pairs of main arteries. The rostral, middle and the caudal cerebral arteries together supply the cerebral cortices and surrounding areas at the front of the brain. The rostral and caudal cerebellar arteries supply the cerebellum and surrounding areas at the back of the brain.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
Blood supply to the brain showing the circle of Willis and the left and right arteries supplying the cerebral areas at the front of the brain and the cerebellum, and other hind brain areas like the brain stem, at the back.
Image by [Public domain], adapted and labelled by RFT
All these arteries are simultaneously supplied with blood via an arterial ring sitting at the base of the brain called the circle of Willis. The circle of Willis is itself connected to the 2 carotid arteries travelling up on either side of the neck from the heart. This whole arrangement is really clever because it works like the M25 motorway as it distributes traffic into and around London. Furthermore, it smooths out fluctuations in blood pressure in different parts of the brain. And, as if this was not enough, there are many anastomoses in the brain. These are small, direct connections between adjacent blood vessels that, together, form a network, like a mesh of smaller blood vessels throughout the brain. In the engineering industry, this is called redundancy. For example, in commercial aircraft, the reliability of many critical components and flight systems are improved by duplicating them with backups that automatically take over in the event of a failure. This is one of the main reasons that flying today is so safe.

Read more  Common Symptoms of a Stroke in the Left Side of the Brain

Yet, despite this elaborate blood supply, accidents still happen. In humans, it takes a reduction in blood flow of less than 40% of normal for ischaemia to start to occur in the brain. This is probably the same for dogs.

The clinical signs of stroke

The most obvious clinical sign of an embolic stroke is the speed at which it becomes apparent, like turning off a switch. For a thrombotic or a haemorrhagic stroke, the onset of clinical signs can be immediate, but they can also be slightly delayed.

Like in humans, how an individual dog is affected by the sudden-onset of neurological deficits depends entirely on where the stroke is in the brain and how widespread it is. Typically, the clinical signs that are observed can give a clue as to where in the brain the problem occurred (but there are always exceptions to this of course), for example –

Forebrain: A weakness down the left or right side of the body. Difficulty in leg-hopping on the affected side of the body when the opposite leg is lifted. Walking in circles. Seizures in some dogs. Note that the affected side of the body, left or right, will be the opposite side to that where the stroke occurred.

Cerebellum: Movement of the limbs may be jerky, clumsy and exaggerated. Vestibular signs indicate that the vestibular system, that controls balance and orientation, has been affected. Signs include difficulty in maintaining balance, as if drunk. Constant, rapid, uncontrolled eye movements (nystagmus). A squint in one eye, that is, both eyes not simultaneously looking in the same direction (strabismus). Circling. Head tilt. Arching of the head and neck backwards (opisthotonus). Note that the affected side of the body, left or right and most obvious in head tilt and circling, will be the same side to that where the stroke occurred.

Brainstem: 10 of the 12 cranial nerves originate in the brain stem so the signs of stroke can be similar to those described for the cerebellum above. A weakness down one or both sides of the body. Circling. Head tilt, or turning. Note that the affected side of the body, left or right and most obvious in head tilt and circling, will be the same side to that where the stroke occurred.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
Ischaemic stroke in the cerebellum of a 10-year-old female neutered Lurcher. The black arrows in the images indicate the infarct caused by the stroke.
Image by Thomsen et al. (2016). is licensed under CC BY 4.0 (

Stroke in dogs, the veterinary perspective

There is no specific treatment for stroke in dogs beyond supporting any of the neurological deficits if required, for example seizures.

In humans, the mortality rate for ischaemic stroke is between 10% and 17% 30 days after the stroke and between 15% and 29% a year later. Other factors that increase mortality rate in humans are the presence of other chronic diseases such as heart disease, age and having another stroke. 15% to 20% of humans have another stroke within 5 years and mortality rate is higher in this group.

The prognosis for most dogs after a stroke is generally good and most recover within a few weeks. However, this does depend on the severity of the stroke as indicated by the clinical signs. It also depends on the dog’s overall health prior to the stroke. In dogs with concurrent diseases such as renal disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism and hereditary hypercholesterolaemia, the long-term prognosis can be less favourable. Although much less common in dogs, haemorrhagic stroke is associated with a higher mortality rate than ischaemic stroke.

There is a huge pool of data on stroke in humans going back many decades from which information about long-term outcomes has been collated. This is not the case in dogs, but there is 1 study that has analysed the clinical data for 22 dogs over four and a half years following an ischaemic stroke. In this study MRI diagnostic imaging was used to identify the exact location of the stroke and its extent within the brain, which was then compared with what was actually observed clinically.

In this study, there were 15 males and 7 females, ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old. The stroke in each dog manifested as the sudden onset of one or more of the following clinical signs (the number in brackets reflects the number of dogs) – seizures (13), a weakness down one or both sides of the body (13), difficulty in maintaining balance, as if drunk (7), mental changes (6), deficits in vision (3).

The MRI scans showed that the stroke was in the forebrain in 19 dogs and in the cerebellum in 3 dogs. The locations and prevalence of these strokes were similar to those found in humans. In 13 dogs, the stroke was on the left side of the brain, while in the other 9 it was on the right.

4 of these dogs had other, ongoing medical conditions. 3 had heart disease, 1 had a small tumour and 1 had hyperadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease). However, this information was excluded from the overall data analysis because the total number of dogs in the study was just too small to make it useful.

Of the 22 dogs included in this study, 5 dogs were euthanased at the owners request within 30 days of their strokes because they all suffered additional strokes. For the remaining 17 dogs, the median survival time was 505 days (about 16 months). 7 of these dogs had a second severe stroke 6 to 17 months after the first stroke, and they either died or were euthanased on humane grounds. 3 of these dogs died of unknown causes 7, 19 and 32 months after their stokes. For the remaining 7 of the 17 dogs, the long-term outcome was considered excellent, as judged by their owners. In other words, these dogs continued to have a good quality of life after their strokes. The only long-term problem reported for 2 of the dogs was a behavioural change described by their owners as a subtle ‘loss in confidence’. Furthermore, 4 of these dogs were still alive four and a half years after their strokes when the study ended.


From the veterinary perspective, the message here is that, if they survive the early stages beyond 30 days, the prognosis for dogs that suffer a stroke is fair to good. Statistically, in this study, 17 of the dogs (77%) survived the first 30 days and all of them went home and continued to enjoy life for some considerable time. It was only later on that, for 10 of these dogs, the prognosis was changed for the worse.

The pattern of recovery following stroke reported by the owners of these dogs was similar to that reported in humans. Over the first 2 to 4 weeks, recovery was quickest and then became more subtle and less obvious week-to-week for the next 12 months following the stroke. The loss of confidence in 2 of the dogs, as reported by 2 of the owners, is a well-known phenomenon in humans.

In humans, about 9% of stroke victims suffer with seizures as one of the clinical signs and this increases the risk of mortality both before 30 days and up to a year post-stroke. In this study, 13 of the 22 dogs (59%) had seizures, but it did not have the same negative effect on survival time.

Of the risk factors looked at in this study (age, gender, body weight and side of the stroke, left or right), only 1 significant predictor of prognosis was identified, the side of the brain that the stroke occurred. Strokes on the left side of the brain increased the chances of survival after 30 days 16-fold compared to strokes on the right. The mean survival time for a left-sided stroke was 602 days, compared to just 24 days for right-sided strokes.

Stroke in dogs, the effect of the weather

As discussed above, there are many factors, or triggers, that increase the risk of having a stroke in both humans and dogs. For example increasing age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyperlipidaemia, obesity, diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism, heart disease and kidney disease. All these risk factors are intrinsic and they are predictable. That is, the person, or dog either has them, or they do not. And, as such, all of them can be controlled to some degree using medication in combination with lifestyle changes.

But, what about extrinsic risk factors that are beyond the influence of control using drugs, etc.? For example, environmental factors like the weather. Changes in weather lead to transient (and sometimes unpredictable) changes in ambient temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity. Although the link between a change in the weather and having a stroke may sound like unfounded superstition, it’s not as crazy at it seems if you think about the physiology.

Every winter, a drop in ambient temperature triggers the body’s cold reflex which activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS causes small blood vessels in the extremities to constrict which reduces the blood flow, thereby conserving body heat, but it also increases blood pressure. In addition, the stress hormones themselves (adrenaline and noradrenaline) released by the SNS also increase blood pressure independently. Cold temperatures also increase blood cholesterol, fats and blood clotting factors.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that more people have strokes – and die from strokes – during the autumn to winter transition. But it’s not just falling temperatures. In humans, the current data suggests that small fluctuations in temperature – up or down – increase the risk of having a stroke. The greatest risk factor is a rapid change in weather conditions.

Could the weather also increase the risk of stroke in dogs? The answer to this question is that we don’t know, or at least we didn’t. But we do know now because someone has studied the phenomenon.

In this weather study, the medical records of 15 dogs (10 males and 5 females) that had suffered a stroke, confirmed by MRI scan, were obtained. In addition, the local meteorological data on temperature, pressure and humidity was also obtained for the 8 days preceding the dates that the dogs had their strokes. Although the number of dogs involved in this study is small, it is really interesting because the data was collected over a 5-year period (2011 to 2015) and so reflects both annual and seasonal variations in weather conditions. For example mean daily temperatures over the 5 years varied from a low of -9.31°C to a high of +22.08°C.

As suspected, most of these dogs had their strokes as the ambient temperatures were changing through autumn to winter period September, October and November.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs
Histogram of the percentage of observed canine ischemic strokes (n = 15) between 2011 and 2015 by season (chi-square, df; 18.18,3 * p < 0.01).
Image by Meadows and Silver (2017). doi:10.3390/vetsci4040056 is licensed under CC BY 4.0 (

Drilling down into the data in more detail yields more

** 5 of the strokes corresponded with a significant decrease in ambient temperature.
** 2 of the strokes corresponded with a significant increase in ambient temperature.
** 8 of the strokes did not correspond to a significant change in ambient temperature.

What does this mean? It means that 7 of the 15 strokes (47%) corresponded with a rapid change in ambient temperature (up or down) of 4.5°C.

The apparent temperature is another way of measuring ambient temperature by taking into account the prevailing wind speeds and humidity. It is commonly used by weather forecasters (look at the online UK BBC, or Met Office forecasts for good examples) because it more accurately reflects how cold it actually feels. For example, on a day where the ambient temperature is -1°C, if there is also a cold wind blowing, the apparent temperature could be shown on the weather forecast as -6°C. This is commonly called wind chill.

Read more  Can a 15 Year Old Dog Recover From a Stroke?

** 7 of the strokes corresponded with a significant decrease in apparent temperature.
** 3 of the strokes corresponded with a significant increase in apparent temperature.
** 5 of the strokes did not correspond to a significant change in apparent temperature.

What does this mean? It means that 10 of the 15 strokes (67%) corresponded with a rapid change in apparent temperature (up or down) of 4°C.

** 6 of the strokes corresponded with a significant decrease in pressure.
** 6 of the strokes corresponded with a significant increase in pressure.
** 3 of the strokes did not correspond to a significant change in pressure.

What does this mean? It means that 12 of the 15 strokes (80%) corresponded with a rapid change in pressure (up or down) of 6.8 mmHg.

** 7 of the strokes corresponded with a significant decrease in humidity.
** 4 of the strokes corresponded with a significant increase in humidity.
** 4 of the strokes did not correspond to a significant change in humidity.

What does this mean? It means that 11 of the 15 strokes (73%) corresponded with a rapid change in humidity (up or down) of 15%.


In this weather study, many of these dogs had their strokes during periods of change in the weather characterised by rapid fluctuations – up or down – in temperature, pressure and humidity. The important trigger factor here is change. To put some numbers on this, changes – up or down – in temperature of 4.5°C, or pressure of 6.8 mmHg, or humidity of 5%. These figures correspond with those found in studies of human stroke environmental triggers.

As stated above, the number of dogs involved in this study were small (human studies routinely involve between 200 to more than 2 million people), but the fact that the results agree with those from human studies does suggest that it is reasonable to conclude that the data presented here is a useful addition to our current knowledgebase on stroke in dogs.

© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor, 2018
This article is an original work and is subject to copyright. You may create a link to this article on another website or in a document back to this web page. You may not copy this article in whole or in part onto another web page or document without permission of the author. Email enquiries to [email protected]


Brinsden, H.C. and Farrand, C.E., 2012. Reducing salt; preventing stroke. Nutrition Bulletin, 37(1), pp.57-63.

Gredal, H., Toft, N., Westrup, U., Motta, L., Gideon, P., Arlien-Søborg, P., Skerritt, G.C. and Berendt, M., 2013a. Survival and clinical outcome of dogs with ischaemic stroke. The Veterinary Journal, 196(3), pp.408-413.

Gredal, H., Skerritt, G.C., Gideon, P., Arlien‐Soeborg, P. and Berendt, M., 2013b. Spontaneous ischaemic stroke in dogs: clinical topographic similarities to humans. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 128(3).

Meadows, K.L. and Silver, G.M., 2017. The Effects of Various Weather Conditions as a Potential Ischemic Stroke Trigger in Dogs. Veterinary sciences, 4(4), p.56.

O’Neill, D.G., Church, D.B., McGreevy, P.D., Thomson, P.C. and Brodbelt, D.C., 2013. Longevity and mortality of owned dogs in England. The Veterinary Journal, 198(3), pp.638-643.

PDSA, 2017. PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report (PAW) 2017. Accessed 02/01/2018.

Thomsen, B., Garosi, L., Skerritt, G., Rusbridge, C., Sparrow, T., Berendt, M. and Gredal, H., 2016. Neurological signs in 23 dogs with suspected rostral cerebellar ischaemic stroke. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 58(1), p.40.

Thomsen, B.B., Gredal, H., Wirenfeldt, M., Kristensen, B.W., Clausen, B.H., Larsen, A.E., Finsen, B., Berendt, M. and Lambertsen, K.L., 2017. Spontaneous ischaemic stroke lesions in a dog brain: neuropathological characterisation and comparison to human ischaemic stroke. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 59(1), p.7.

Wessmann, A., Chandler, K. and Garosi, L., 2009. Ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke in the dog. The Veterinary Journal, 180(3), pp.290-303.

— Update: 12-02-2023 — found an additional article Can a 15 Year Old Dog Recover From a Stroke? from the website for the keyword prognosis of stroke in old dogs.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs

Just like humans have strokes, dogs can as well. I know how scary that thought is, but just because it can happen does not mean it will happen to your dog. The best way to help is to be prepared by learning more about it, what the signs are and what to do should it happen.

Most dogs will recover from a stroke, but whether they do or not will depend on where in the brain the stroke occurred. The prognosis and likelihood of another stroke depends on the cause and whether it can be treated.

Dr. Evelyn Galban, Chief of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine says “In general we expect dogs that are improving in the first three to five days to have a good recovery within four to six weeks’ time, some with residual deficits but still a good quality of life.”

Is a stroke the same as a seizure or epilepsy?

It’s not uncommon for an old dog to have a seizure. My heart dog Red had a few minor ones, and boy were they scary…for me more than her.

I’ve heard these three words used interchangeably, but are they same thing?

According to Dr Ernest Ward in a post about seizures on the VCA hospitals website, a seizure “is a temporary involuntary disturbance of normal brain function that is usually accompanied by uncontrollable muscle activity.”

“Epilepsy is a term used to describe repeated episodes of seizures.”

While a stroke can resemble a seizure, the cause is different.

Specialists at Southeast Veterinary Neurology say “A stroke occurs if blood flow to part of the brain is obstructed in some way. This can damage nerve cells and cause a variety of clinical symptoms similar to those in dogs with other neurological conditions, such as brain tumors.”

What causes a dog to have a stroke?

A Blockage in or narrowing of blood vessels prevent blood and oxygen reaching the brain, causing cells to die.

There are 2 types of strokes – Hemorrhagic and Ischemic

Hemorrhagic stroke or bleeding in the brain can happen as a result of high blood pressure, problems with blood clotting, platelet problems, leaky blood vessels, certain infections, parasites, or toxicity.”

Ischemic stroke refers to reduced blood flow to the brain due to blockage of a blood vessel. This blockage can occur as a result of increased blood clotting from hypothyroidism, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, or cardiac disease.”

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs

How can you tell if a dog had a stroke?

A stroke tends to come on very suddenly, so one minute your dog may be fine, the next he or she is exhibiting some strange symptoms.

Here are signs that could indicate your dog is having a stroke:

  • Acute (sudden) onset of seizures
  • Weakness on one side
  • Behaving in ways that are not “normal” for your dog
  • Falling to one side
  • Dragging one or both hind legs
  • Sudden blindness
  • Uncoordinated when walking
  • Head tilt
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Eyes moving from side to side
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Crying
  • Vomiting

The thing is, some of these symptoms can indicate other health issues.

For example, an attack of pancreatitis can cause vomiting and vestibular disease can be the reason for the head tilt. What some may think of as “sudden blindness” may have been a gradual loss of vision due to diabetes, and the dog “suddenly” went blind. Crying can be the result of an injury, for example trying to jump onto the couch, or arthritis.

If you have a dog with pancreatitis, or you’d just like to learn more, this article “What You Need to Know About Dogs and Pancreatitis” will be helpful.

What do you do when an old dog has a stroke?

If your dog is exhibiting any of the above signs, he or she needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Here are some of the things your vet will want to know –

  • What behaviours/physical symptoms have you concerned
  • When did they start
  • How long have they been going on
  • Was something happening right before you noticed …

If you can take a video that will be helpful as well.

At your appointment your vet will perform a physical exam, likely take blood and urine, possibly an x-ray and maybe even an ECG. He will determine the tests he needs in order to rule in or out other possible explanations.

While these tests can’t diagnose a stroke, they can help him determine if any of the signs you witnessed are the result of an ongoing or perhaps new medical condition.

Since an MRI is the best way to determine if your dog did in fact have a stroke, your vet will likely refer you to a neurologist. Most vets do not have an MRI machine, unless yours is located at an animal hospital.

MRIs are expensive and not everyone is able or willing to put their dog through that kind of a test, which also requires him to be anesthetised. Prices will vary by practice and location, but they’re typically $2,000+.

Ask your vet whether or not it’s really necessary, and what difference knowing will make. There is no specific treatment for a stroke so is there a point? Only you can make that decision, in consultation with your vet.

I know of many senior dog parents who have decided to go ahead, while many others did not feel knowing would make a difference to their dog’s quality of life.

Prognosis of stroke in old dogs

How do you treat a dog that had a stroke?

Since my dog had seizures not a stroke, I was doing some research into possible treatments. I read there aren’t any treatments that can repair a damaged part of the brain, but I also read an article by Dr Karen Becker, an integrative vet who had this to say.

“Initial treatment typically involves intravenous fluids and IV corticosteroids to control brain swelling and support blood circulation to the brain. This is a situation in which giving corticosteroids immediately can be life-saving and help prevent permanent damage.”

“The neurologic symptoms of a stroke gradually resolve on their own as the animal’s body re-establishes normal blood flow to the brain and swelling resolves. During this period, acupuncture, antioxidants (SOD and astaxanthin), Chinese herbs and homeopathy can be very beneficial.”

Your dog may need lots of support eating, drinking and regaining mobility. They may also have issues with peeing and pooping, so pee pads may be needed.

Can strokes in old dogs be prevented?

According to Dr. Galban, about 50% of dogs who suffered a stroke already had an underlying health condition. “These conditions can include systemic diseases: Cushing’s disease, hyperlipidemia, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism to name a few of the most common.”

I find this encouraging because in these cases, regular vet checks may help reduce the chances of your dog suffering a stroke.

Twice yearly vet visits are always recommended for old dogs. Blood and urine tests are done to help monitor an existing health issue, particularly critical if your dog has a condition that increases the risk of developing blood clots.

It is also the time when a new problem can be detected, hopefully in its early stages when it has a better chance of being treated or managed.

— Update: 12-02-2023 — found an additional article Dog Stroke: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options from the website for the keyword prognosis of stroke in old dogs.

Key points

  • A stroke is caused by disruption to the blood flow to the brain due to blood clots or burst blood vessel.
  • Symptoms of strokes in dogs can vary depending on what part of the brain is affected.
  • Other conditions can make your dog more likely to have a stroke, including diabetes, Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.
  • Quick treatment is vital after the stroke occurs.
  • Although most dogs recover from a stroke if vets restore proper blood flow to the brain affected, recovery time can be variable, and symptoms can persist.

Read more  Dog Stroke: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options

Common in:

Older dogs or those with certain ongoing illnesses

Dog Stroke Symptoms and types:

The symptoms of strokes in dogs are caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain and often come on very suddenly, with no prior warning. 

The combination of symptoms can vary drastically between dogs, depending on which part of the brain affected. In human stroke victims, it often leads to slurred speech, a drop of one side of the face, or weakness of one side of the body.  

On the other hand, if your canine companion has a stroke, it might cause them to become wobbly, weak, uncoordinated, or distressed. They may act out of character, seem less responsive or vacant, or even become aggressive. 

You might notice that they appear blind or with abnormal eye movements, walk into things, and seem disorientated. If you look at their face, their head tilt, and their eyes might be flickering or rolling. In addition, affected dogs might walk in circles, struggle to stand, or have seizures.

 How Vets Diagnose Strokes in Dogs

As pet owners, if your dog is showing signs that they might be having a stroke, you must arrange for them to be examined by a veterinarian as an emergency, especially to prevent further strokes or brain diseases. 

There also needs to be proper blood flow restored which is done through stroke treatment.

Just like strokes in humans, in order for treatment to be successful, it must be started promptly to avoid blood clots or clotting disorders which come from the rupture of blood vessels. 

Once at the veterinary clinic, a veterinarian will be able to use various tests to decide whether the cause of your dog’s symptoms is a stroke or another medical issue.

  • First, the veterinarian will complete a neurological examination to test your dog’s brain and nerve function. This involves stimulating various reflexes and assessing your dog’s response.
  • To better understand the cause of the symptoms, your veterinarian might perform blood tests, x-rays of the chest or spine, a heart ultrasound, or an ECG.
  • If your veterinarian has advanced imaging facilities, or if your dog is stable to travel to a specialist centre, they might recommend a CT, MRI, or fluoroscopy.

These tests will allow the veterinarian to assess your dog’s heart and circulation, as well as their brain and nervous system, to decide which is the source of their illness.

what causes strokes in dogs?

Strokes can be caused by an obstruction to a blood vessel or bleeding from a blood vessel. If a blood clot causes the stroke, it is known as an ischemic stroke. If blood clots form within the body, they can travel through the larger blood vessels without an issue but often get stuck within the smaller blood vessels of the internal organs. 

Common places for clots to get stuck include the brain, lungs, and kidneys. When the blood clot gets lodged within the network of blood vessels in the brain, it causes a blockage, preventing oxygenated blood from reaching that area of the brain. Sometimes a similar blockage can be caused by other debris within the blood vessels, like clumps of bacteria or tumor cells.   

If a portion of a blood vessel is weakened and stretched by an aneurism, or if there is trauma to a blood vessel, the blood vessel can burst to cause a bleed. The bleeding from the burst blood vessel prevents oxygenated blood from reaching the brain tissue, just like if there were an obstruction. This is known as a hemorrhagic stroke.  

Once deprived of oxygen, either due to a clot or a bleed, the brain tissue will begin to die. Depending on the exact location of the clot or haemorrhage, different parts of the brain will be affected, which is why the symptoms are quite variable.

Best treatment options for dogs stroke

One of the most crucial parts of treating a stroke is treating the underlying cause, therefore preventing further damage.

  • If the underlying cause of the stroke is heart disease, then, as well as blood thinners, your dog might benefit from diuretics and medication to control the blood pressure and help the heart pump more effectively. Similarly, treatment of any underlying conditions like diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or kidney disease will help to prevent any more stroke episodes.
  • Anti-clot medication and blood thinners are helpful for any ischemic stroke. Although hemorrhagic strokes are harder to treat because the brain is not easy to reach surgically, the pressure on the brain from the bleed can be relieved with medication.

With close monitoring and treatment, many dogs will improve after suffering from a stroke. The recovery time can vary from a few weeks to a few months, and sadly some dogs never fully recover.

However, even if they have some long-term symptoms, the most important thing is whether they can still have a good quality of life.

With a little extra help from their pet parents, many dogs live happy lives, but if a good quality of life is not achievable, putting them to sleep may be the kindest option.

Stroke Home remedies and their effectiveness

Unfortunately, if your dog is showing signs of a possible stroke, then time is of the essence. There is no effective home remedy, and you should phone a veterinarian immediately so that they can start investigations and treatment.

When to see a vet

If you think your canine companion could be having a stroke, this is an emergency. Rather than waiting for more symptoms to develop, it is crucial to seek veterinary attention as soon as the stroke occurs. 

Prompt veterinary treatment is very important, and any delay could have an impact on your canine companion’s long-term health.

— Update: 12-02-2023 — found an additional article Strokes in dogs: Everything you need to know about symptoms, causes and treatment from the website for the keyword prognosis of stroke in old dogs.

It’s rare when the words “stroke” and “scary” don’t appear in the same sentence. That’s why it’s important for dog owners to know the symptoms of a dog stroke and how to move forward with treatment.

A sudden loss of balance and a head tilt are just some of the signs, but strokes take scary one step further by mimicking other health issues, such as kidney failure and more.

Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining whether your dog has had a stroke and can help put you both on the path to recovery. Read on for answers to common questions about stroke symptoms, causes and more.

What is a stroke?

You’ve heard the word a thousand times but it’s helpful to understand exactly what is happening in your dog’s body when a stroke occurs. A stroke is a sudden death of brain cells in a localized area due to a lack of blood flow, says Dr. Carol Osborne, a veterinarian with the Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center and Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Most frequently, a blood clot is to blame. But a stroke can also occur if a piece of fat, cartilage or bacteria breaks loose in another part of the body and circulates to the dog’s brain, says Osborne.

What are common symptoms of a stroke in dogs?

  • Loss of balance

  • Head tilting

  • Abnormal eye movements

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

These are all things you might see if your dog has suffered from a stroke. Your pup’s “eyes might flicker quickly from side to side, kind of like watching a tennis match,” Osborne explains. These symptoms have to persist for more than 24 hours for your pet’s condition to be classified as a stroke, she adds, but you shouldn’t wait that long to visit the vet. The faster you see a vet, the better.

What can make diagnosis tricky is that symptoms of a stroke can mimic those of other health issues, such as vertigo, kidney failure, an inner ear infection, a brain tumor or a seizure. The professionals will need to rule out these issues by performing a series of tests.

“A stroke can’t be determined 100 percent without imaging,” says Dr. Todd Bishop, a neurologist with Upstate Veterinary Specialties in Latham, New York. “An MRI is best.”

What causes a stroke?

In about 50 percent of cases, says Dr. Evelyn Galban, Chief of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs that have strokes will have an underlying or concurrent condition.

“These conditions can include systemic diseases: Cushing’s disease, hyperlipidemia, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism to name a few of the most common,” Galban says. “There are many cases for which we are unable to find a reason for the event and we can call these cases cryptogenic infarcts.”

How do you treat a stroke?

You may be surprised to learn that there is no specific treatment for dogs who have strokes — the most important plan is time to heal, says Galban.

“We do recommend some diagnostics looking for causes of a stroke, followed by treatment of these underlying conditions,” she explains. “In some cases a medication might be recommended to help prevent clots from forming in the future.”

Is recovery possible following a stroke?

For the highest chance of recovery, Bishop says, take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect a stroke.

“One of the most important things to do is start intravenous fluids right away,” he explains, adding that these fluids will help your dog’s brain maintain oxygen and vital nutrients and will work to flush out any waste products from the area.

A stroke patient will need all the love and care their owner can give them following the initial event.

“Stroke patients may require intensive supportive care to help them regain the ability to eat and drink, walk and have normal bathroom habits,” says Galban. “Dogs can recover from strokes. Some dogs worsen over the initial 24-72 hours and then we begin to see signs of recovery. In general we expect dogs that are improving in the first three to five days to have a good recovery within four to six weeks’ time, some with residual deficits but still a good quality of life.”

How common are strokes in dogs?

There is a lack of studies showing how common strokes are in dogs, Bishop says, but it’s clear they are more common than previously thought.

“When I was in vet school it was thought strokes were pretty uncommon, but with the advent of MRI, it’s now believed to be one of the top neurological diseases,” he says.

Dogs that are middle-aged to elderly are most likely to suffer from a stroke. And, take note purebred-lovers out there, two kinds of dogs — Cavalier King Charles spaniels and greyhounds — are more susceptible to strokes because of blood-related issues common in their lineages, Bishop says.

“It’s common enough in those two breeds that when I see one on my schedule, stroke is the first thing that goes through my mind,” he says.

Can you prevent dogs from having strokes?

There is no way to prevent strokes or predict if one is going to happen, says Bishop, but if your dog should suffer from a stroke, the prognosis is not as bleak as you might think. While some dogs have lasting neurological damage, most recover.

“I’d say as many as 75 percent improve or normalize with time, but it could take a week or more,” he says.

Your best hope is that your canine can recover and enjoy many more years with you.

“I’ve had dogs live years after a stroke,” says Bishop. “Happy, healthy lives.”


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